Even as Andhra Excise Minister Mopidevi Venkata Ramana is facing serious allegations of accepting a bribe of Rs 10 lakh from a liquor trader in Khammam district, and Minister for Road and Buildings Dharmana Prasad also has come under cloud after the allegations that his nephew and a personal assistant were paid bribes in Srikakulam district, the ruling party has plunged in to turmoil.
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While speculations were rife that the ACB has gathered the evidence of involvement of 80 elected representatives including a few ministers, the Congress party has divided in to anti- and pro-Kiran Kumar Reddy camps.
Accusations were flying thick and fast that the chief minister was using the information gathered by the ACB to settle scores with his critics with in the party. D L Ravindra Reddy, a senior minister who has turned against the CM, has openly alleged that Mopidevi was named in the remand report of the ACB at the behest of the Kiran Kumar Reddy. He alleged that the excise minister was being targeted because he was from the backward class while the ministers from the powerful castes were being shielded.
Both Mopidevi and Prasad have raised objections to the inclusion of their names in the report filed by the ACB in different courts on the basis of questioning of the arrested liquor traders. Both the ministers questioned how the ACB could mention their names with out even seeking clarifications from them.
While a liquor trader from Khammam Ramanna has provided a list of politicians, officials and the reporters to whom the liquor syndicate had paid regular monthly bribes and revealed that he along with two others had paid bribe of Rs 10 lakh to the ministers, another trader in Srikakulam district Oruganti Eswara Rao alleged that the syndicate paid a bribe of Rs 39 lakhs to minister Prasad's nephew CH Venkat and personal assistant Appa Rao. "It is a false allegation," said the minister.
The Central Bureau of Investigation launched a state-wide probe into the activities of the liquor syndicates after it seized lakhs of rupees from a vehicle in Karimnagar district and it was revealed that the bribe money was meant for excise department officials.
So far the agency has arrested 19 people from across 12 districts and searches and raids are continuing in other places. In case of Khammam district, the arrested trader has also mentioned the names of Congress MLA Kavitha and Communist Party of India MLA P Nageshwara Rao among the recipients. But the CPI denied it saying it was a donation given to the party for which a receipt was also issued. Those arrested so far include an assistant commissioner and five inspectors of excise departments.
In a reflection of the worsening group rivalries in the Congress party, several disgruntled ministers and leaders met the state Congress president Botsa Satyanarayana and sought his intervention with the party high command.
But Botsa himself was under fire as his family reportedly owns 40 liquor shops in different districts.
Arrested liquor traders have revealed that they have formed cartels to protect their interests and recover their huge investments in liquor business by selling the liquor at a price higher than the MRP. In exchange of the bribes they expected protection to their illegal practices including the unauthorised retail sales in the villages.
Image: Andhra Pradesh Excise Minister Mopidevi Venkat Ramana addresses the media on Friday | Photograph: Snaps India